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I hope you joined me yesterday for my Egg-cerpt Exchange with Anita Philmar, and later this week, I will host another Exchange, with author *lizzie starr, but today, it’s an Ink Drop Interview with Ken Lang, author of ‘Walking Among the Dead’ and ‘Standing in Death’s Shadow’.
KL – It started quite innocently. I’m a full-time police officer and was pulling a security gig at my local church for a friend who was hosting a Storytelling conference. One of the guest speakers was John Riddle, a ghostwriter from Bear, DE, who gave a class about earning money by writing online content for websites. One of the attendees, who happens to be a close friend, attended the class and thought of me and my law enforcement background. Not being able to attend the class, I approached John Riddle later and inquired about the content of his course. When I explained that I was a law enforcement officer and a certified police instructor, he asked about my experience. Having served in the police department for over 20 years, the past 15 years as a detective investigating rapes, robberies, and murders, he quickly steered me towards writing true crime books. After receiving a little guidance and direction from John on how to format the book, I was well on my way.
Being an artistic and creative individual, I thought it would be fun to write a book about my experiences as a homicide detective. John and I thought through the process and decided that we wanted to step out of the box with writing this book and test uncharted waters. It was here that we decided to write my first book, Walking Among the Dead, in a third person novel feel. Quite different from the standard Ann Rule book where interviews reveal facts that are regurgitated into a storyline. In Walking Among the Dead, the third person novel feel ended up working quite well as my readers found themselves thrust right into the investigations as if they were experiencing it firsthand—which was my main goal.
I wrote the first two chapters, capturing a murder investigation I handled where an estranged boyfriend returns to a former girlfriends apartment and is shot by her. I forwarded my first two chapters to John, who, having some connections with some prominent authors, floated my writing by a bestselling author. They both agreed, I was born to write. That was when I had my ‘ah-ha’ moment and saw my potential to make writing a career endeavor. After all, it beats the current 1 hour commute.
IDI – I suppose the fact that you work as a detective gives you ample material to write about, but do all of your ideas come from work?
KL – For my true crime books, my ideas come from the actual cases that I’ve handled. However, given that I also cover much of the behind-the-scenes action between detectives not usually captured in true crime books, I do need to become creative in my ideas in how to approach certain topics, say, a self-centered detective. For example, I’ve had to fictionalize each of my characters in the books because using their real names wasn’t an option—particularly for those involved in situations in a negative light. So, instead of using actual situations, I’ve created scenes that replicate a type of situation that may be found when working in the police department and inserted them into the storyline to give the reader a realistic view of the office. This idea spawned from the fact that it seems no matter where I’ve worked in the police department I’ve most often had to work with a very self-centered, egotistical people. I decided to replicate this idea through a character in this series known as Brad Metzger. The reality is that my “Brad Metzger” is a fictional character, representative of a half-dozen of people I’ve had to work with who seem to think that the world revolves around them. This character allows me a conduit where I can take my readers through some of the administrative nightmares that occur within such a police department.
IDI – Who’s your target audience? What aspect of your writing do you feel targets that particular audience?
KL – As of this moment, my target audience is the true crime segment. I have found that many people who enjoy reading this genre are fascinated with getting into the killers and the victim’s heads as they are pursuing to find out why such tragedies occur. In finding out the question “why?,” we need to first identify and capture the killer. That’s where the forensics aspect of law enforcement and how detectives apply it to their investigations becomes an enthralling subtopic—another facet enjoyed by true crime fans. While homicide detectives wished that every aspect of forensics represented in every case (as is often portrayed in TV shows), the reality is that homicide detectives often have nothing to go on and are able to make a great case the old-fashioned way—through a good, tactful interview. It often falls to the detective’s ability to outwit the killer and derive the needed information without their knowing.
However, my target audience will change (or broaden) when I start writing my crime novel series. Readers who enjoy reading crime novels by authors such as Michael Connelly, John Grisham, and James Patterson, will certainly enjoy the series that I’ll be writing later this year. I think perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this writing will be the realities of the investigation that I’ll weave into a storyline, based on my experiences as a detective. I’ll be employing actual practices, strategies, and even the pitfalls that we face on a daily basis in the detective world. This will give the reader a sense of something genuine that could really happen, especially in today’s world. I also hope that my crime novels will broaden the minds of those in law enforcement as they see different ways in which crimes can be solved. As for the detail, well, I’m keeping those a secret.
An unanticipated target audience that I’ve developed has been the criminal justice student in college. I just recently learned that my first book, Walking Among the Dead, is a recommended reading on a syllabi for a Police Administration course at Towson University (Maryland). I’ve also had an article published about me in the college paper for the Greece Law School. Because they don’t have the types of violent crimes that we do here in the United States, my books have become suggested readings for those student who speak and read English.
IDI – What are you working on now? Can we get a sneak peek?
KL – I’ve written two books so far. Walking Among the Dead was self-published in 2011 through the Kindle Store, Barnes&Nobles, and CreateSpace. While I was marketing my first book, I was writing my second book, Standing In Death’s Shadow, which was picked up by Red Willow Digital Press and just published in February 2012. I am currently writing my third book, the final book of my homicide series, Death Comes Uninvited.
While I am finishing the initial rough draft to this third book, I have already started plotting, planning, and outlining my next book. This will be a novel based in Baltimore, Maryland and will most undoubtedly involve a detective who finds himself in a hair-raising adventure that very well may cost him his family and his career.
In the meantime, here is an excerpt from my second book – Standing In Death’s Shadow:
Finally reaching her driveway, Edith pushed the gear selector into park and drew in a long deep breath after the 12-hour shift she just endured at the restaurant. It felt good to be off her feet. While Wednesdays were always busy, perhaps for the convenience of hustling families with midweek activities, Edith was thankful she would have a few hours to recline in front of her television before dragging her weary body off to bed.
Edith wormed her way from the driver’s seat, throwing her weighted purse over her shoulder. She fumbled through her keys in the darkness of the late night as she meandered to the rear kitchen door and placed the key into the dead-bolt lock. Turning the key, she felt the empty slack in the deadbolt announcing that the door was already unsecured. That’s strange, she thought as she gave the knob a twist and pushed on the door.
Edith swung open the door when her effort came to an abrupt halt, only gapping a few meager inches.
“What the hell?” Edith said aloud to herself. Leaning in with her shoulder, she pressed hard against the door, muscling it open just enough for her to squeeze through the narrow cavity.
Wiggling through the entryway, she could barely see the looming object lying at her feet. She reached for the light switch, flipped it up, and illuminated the darkened room to see what was causing her weary muscles to ache even more.
“Oh, God! Oh, God!” she yelled, tripping over Darlene’s lifeless body. Blood stretched across the scuffed linoleum floor pooling where it poured from the partially exposed wounds. No need to reach down and check Darlene’s well-being; the empty stare confirmed her demise.
Stunned and dismayed, Edith stumbled in place, unsure what her next move should be. Surveying the scene in horror, her heart-felt as if it had dropped right out of her chest. Her ears tuned into quieted movement lumbering towards her from the living room’s darkened corridor.
“Harold?” she called out. The shadow now stood in the dining room, a butcher knife clenched in his lowered right hand.
“Yeah, Mom,” the shadow answered.
“What the hell is going on?”
“I don’t know, Mom… I don’t know.”
Harold turned and walked back through the living room, found his way through the front door, stopped in the front yard, and pulled out his cell phone. Even more confused than when she initially found Darlene’s cadaver at her back door, Edith followed her son, taking careful measures not to step in the puddles of drying blood and track it onto the carpet.
Edith leaned out the front door and braced herself on the screen door’s handle as she cried out to Harold.
“Harold! Who the hell are you talking to? What is going on?” she demanded.
Harold folded the cell phone, sliding it into his pocket before climbing into his little blue hatchback. Driving off into the night, he sensed deep within his spirit that he would never see his mother again.
IDI – Favorite author, and why?
KL – Currently, I’ve been reading and studying Dan Brown. I am extremely fascinated with his ability to take such a complex topic, convey it in such an interesting way, while keeping me captivated with every page turn. I first read The Lost Symbol, then Angels and Demons, and will soon be starting The DaVinci Code.
Before Dan Brown, I found that I was drawn to historical books, both fiction and non-fiction, mostly Stephen Ambrose. But after someone suggested to me that I should read Brown’s books, I picked up The Lost Symbol and was hooked.
IDI – Everyone has their dream. What’s yours… best seller, feature film adaption, fame, riches, Oprah’s book club, Pulitzer?
KL – Honestly, I would be happy just to pay off all my debt. That would allow me to retire from my agency and write fulltime at home without having to worry about making ends meet. However, let it be known, I wouldn’t object to any or all of the aforementioned attributes of a successful author.
I must say that while being labeled a ‘bestselling’ author is quite attractive, I do believe that the crime novel series that I am developing would be one suited for excellent television or film adaptation. This simply goes back to my ability to weave my experience into the storyline and captivate the audience.
As a detective, I’ve spent much of my career either working, being on call, or being called out on an investigation in the middle of the night. I’ve spent enough time away from home, missing family events and functions, I would like to spend more of my time with those who matter the most to me. So, if being a bestseller, rich, or famous author permits me to spend more time with my wife and children, so be it. I’ve paid my dues.
IDI – I’ve heard argument for each side, but when writing, do you outline or sketch the entire book before you feel comfortable enough to begin your draft or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants?
KL – For the books I’ve already written, I’ve simply outlined—and I mean ‘simply.’ In Walking Among the Dead, Standing In Death’s Shadow, and Death Comes Uninvited, I’ve outlined which cases would fill which chapters in my books. And much of this was done on the fly. Having lived and experienced these cases firsthand, deriving the storyline for me was simple. What I found most difficult was managing to fit the information I wanted to convey into chapters that weren’t too long. After being given the advice to write a chapter no longer that 12 pages doublespaced, I found that I was often dividing up the events into two chapters. In Walking Among the Dead, I spent the first chapter executing the crime and having the homicide Unit respond to the scene. The second chapter then takes the reader into the ‘box’ with the suspect during the interview—a revealing part of the job that Hollywood has yet to master.
I have found the writing on the fly by the seat of my pants has been quite challenging. While I’ve never painted myself into a corner, I have looked at programs, software, and applications on today’s market meant to help an author develop their plot, character’s arc, etc. Quite frankly, after using the demo’s, I have found most of those products to be overwhelming. Forget the learning curve, the mere presence of the vast amount of ‘features’ is too intimidating for me. I found that I spent more time concentrating on the minute of details of the programs rather than focusing on the story and letting natural creativity take its course.
I’m pretty certain that when it comes time to start writing my crime novels, I will have a very generic outline, a blank screen on my laptop, and nothing to inhibit me.
IDI – Pen and paper or computer and Word? The bustle of your local bookstore or the quiet of your study? Alone or within a writing group? Tell us, what is your most productive/inspiring setting?
KL – When outlining, I prefer pen and paper. However, when I start writing, the computer and Word are invaluable to me. I guess it comes from my time as a detective out in the field. When you’re taking notes, you use a pen and notepad. But, when it’s time to write the report, it’s time to bust out the laptop. I really enjoy the editing capabilities of the computer versus pen and paper. I find myself, structuring, restructuring, and re-restructuring my sentences time and again. Then there is the ease of the online dictionary and thesaurus, two of my best friends, when I am searching for just the right words. Finally, I love having my worked backed up to a remote backup site. Paper burns too easy.
As for a specific writing area, I do thoroughly enjoy sitting on my deck (which faces a horse farm), when writing. But, given that Maryland is prone to some harsh, brutal winters, I tend to retreat to the upstairs living room during the colder season. Regardless if I am writing on my deck, or sitting in my cozy chair (where I am currently writing this interview) I am usually writing while Yo Yo Ma is playing the Bach Cello Suites softly in my ears via my iPhone. I find that classical music and some soft jazz to be extremely soothing when writing.
This is not to say that I need to be in either of these two spaces to write. I have been known to take my laptop to different places and write in the business of the day. In fact, for those writers who are stuck having to write in a particular space, I would challenge them to go on a hike, find a beautiful scenic area, and then write a blog on what they see—I believe they will truly be surprised.
IDI – Online cafe’s or writers groups (aside from social networking). Do you belong to any and if so, help or harm?
KL – I’ve never had the pleasure to experience an online café, but I have been active in a writer group since meeting John Riddle. We were relatively a new group when I started, so we’ve grown and learned together. I have found that they can be both good and bad to some degree. Good in that each month when we meet we can submit writing samples ahead of time and have critiques done by other members of the group. That’s where the bad sometimes rears its ugly head. I think that some of the members fear offending the writer and hold back on their criticism, information that would probably better help the writer. Another good area has been that authors can share their experiences they have learned. As for me, I have found that many of the other writers, who aspire to publish their first book, often ask me about the process, my mistakes, my triumphs, and recommendations—and I love sharing. In fact, I’m thinking about sharing some of this information on my blog this year on my website www.KenLangStudios.com.
IDI – What was the best advice ever given to you, and by whom?
KL – “You need to write true crime books.” –John Riddle, March 2010.
When John spoke those words to me, he opened a door of opportunity that I would have never explored on my own. It was this advise (and my acting on it), that has brought me to the juncture of writing I have achieved. I now have two books published, a third on the way, a fourth being outlined, and slews of story ideas (all of which I’ve been writing down), filling my head, waiting to be transcribed out onto that blank computer screen. This adventure has been tremendous so far. My first book drew the attention of Red Willow Digital Press who signed me on. I was named one of 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading by The Author’s Show in October 2011. Now, I am starting to draw the attention of some bestselling authors who believe that it is only a matter of time before I break loose on the scene. And I would have never experienced what I am experiencing hadn’t John Riddle encouraged me to write that first book.
IDI – One last question, Ken. What is an ordinary day in the life of Ken Lang?
KL – Unless we have a raid scheduled, I’m usually throwing back the cover at 4:30 a.m. preparing for the grind at the office. I am still a detective, currently investigating burglaries, so I spend 8 hours (or more at times) following up leads on cases, identifying suspects, and making arrests. Following my hour commute home, I usually jump on the laptop and start checking out my social media outlets and knock out whatever promotional agenda I have for that day. Often I get waylaid from writing, so I schedule time to set aside my marketing and focus on which ever book I am currently working on. Additionally, I am also working on my masters program, so I spend a fair amount of time reading and writing essays.
I have a great family who sees my writing potential and helps when where they can. Many of my evenings are spent in front of the laptop, not the TV, working through marketing or a manuscript. But when needs arise with the family, I take time and tend to them. Much of these tasks carry me late into the evening. Then its off to bed in preparation for another long day. As you can imagine, I am looking forward to the conclusion of my masters degree program.
IDI – Thank you for joining me today and best of luck in your writing career.
There are many wonderful authors out there and unfortunately, I can’t bring them all to you. But, I can offer you a peek into their work. Here are my picks for Recommended Readings this week.
Check out Ken’s true crime novel, ‘Walking Among the Dead’.
If you haven’t read ‘The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides, you seriously need to!
Although I haven’t had the opportunity to read Dakota’s, I included her because, well, just because she’s the coolest person I’ve never met! (and people are saying great things about her work….) Seriously folks, she’ll keep you laughing!
Join me this Friday for an Egg-cerpt with *lizzie starr.
I am happy to announce that next week I will spotlight Joseph Rinaldo. Joseph first appeared on Ink Drop Interviews last year to promote his novel, ‘A Spy At Home’. He has recently released a new novel, ‘Hazardous Choices’ so I hope you’ll help me to wish him luck!
Keep up with me:
Pathetic Excuse for a Website (Seriously)
And don’t forget to leave a word, a rating or a ‘like’ for Ken…. He says thank you!